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In The Demise of Due Process on Campus, Peter Berkowitz (senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University) wrote:

Under the guise of liberal education, universities have been inculcating an illiberal sensibility extending back to the generation currently controlling the executive branch.

Our universities have eroded liberty of thought and discussion. To control what is said and thought, they have promulgated speech codes. They have created small “free speech zones”, effectively rendering most of campus an unfree speech zone. And they have encouraged students to believe that they have a right to not hear speech they find offensive and that the university has a duty to punish those who commit offensive speech.

One of the most striking examples of the war between freedom of expression and the hypersensitivities of self-described victim communities was the infamous 1993 Water Buffalo Affair, in which a white male freshman at the University of Pennsylvania was cited for racial harassment for shouting out his window, as he was trying to write an English paper, at a very loud group of mostly black college sorority women, finally saying “Shut up, you water buffalo” when they did not heed his initial polite request to “please keep quiet”. The freshman, Eden Jacobowitz, was an orthodox Jew, and behema is Hebrew slang for a thoughtless or rowdy person, which is translated as “water buffalo” and has no racial connotations.

The University of Pennsylvania not only proceeded with a hearing after police had exonerated Jacobowitz, but also issued a gag order to prevent leaks to the media, adding insult to injury in an act of utter contempt for both free speech and freedom of the press, in deference to the sensibilities of some rather obnoxious college women.

On May 13, 1993, news anchor John Chancellor, responding to this incident, reported that:

“The language police are at work on the campuses of our better schools. The word cops are marching under the banner of political correctness. The culture of victimization is hunting for quarry.”

From Radical Academic Freedom to the Corralling of Free Speech

To the detriment of our national culture, the situation since then has only become worse. America’s bastions of “liberal” education seem to have morphed from the Berkeley Free Speech movement to restrictions on speech, ostensibly to protect the emotional stability of the very social groups and individuals whom the 1960s movements hoped to liberate and empower.

While blacks, for good reason, are often hypersensitive to slights and apparent prejudices, the newly-emerging self-identified victim community on campus are women who insist (or have been indoctrinated to believe) that a “rape culture” keeps them perpetually on guard and fearful of assault by men who are governed by an aggressive libido that must be tamed and caged like a wild animal, by equally aggressive government regulation and administrative policy.

Twenty-four-year-old Katie Roiphe was the first of the Gen-Xers to speak out publicly against the intolerant turn the women’s movement has taken, and in her book The Morning After, she casts a critical eye on what she calls the mating rituals of a rape-sensitive community. From Take Back the Night marches to rape-crisis feminists and the growing campus concern with sexual harassment, Roiphe shows us a generation of women whose values are strikingly similar to those their mothers and grandmothers fought so hard to escape from – a generation yearning for regulation, fearful of its sexuality, and animated by a nostalgia for days of greater social control.

To Katie Roiphe, feminism had always meant freedom – but she was shocked to discover that the same movement that had once promised women a voice was now being used to tell them what they ought to say and think and feel. At Harvard in the fall of 1986, and later as a doctoral student at Princeton, Roiphe saw a thoroughly new phenomenon taking shape on campus: the emergence of a culture captivated by victimization. The Morning After arose out of her frustration with today’s feminism and with the hypocrisy of a culture that idealizes freedom of speech but refuses to tolerate dissent.

The latest examples of this phenomenon include the immediate expulsion (without hearing or due process) of two University of Oklahoma fraternity brothers who appeared to be leading the singing of a song with racist lyrics on a private bus during a private outing, which was discovered only after some anonymous person posted a video of the incident to YouTube.

Private speech in a private setting (as well as public speech), no matter how objectively offensive, is protected by the 1st Amendment at a public state university, and some constitutional scholars, such as Eugene Volokh, insist that the expulsion was rash and illegal. The rationalization was that the incident had “created a hostile educational environment for others”, though the US Supreme Court has been explicit that a hostile environment can be created only by “severe and persistent” harassment, not an isolated incident, particularly by peers. Harassment, furthermore, requires that the speech or behavior be intentionally directed at a targeted person or group – not incidentally released to a social media site.

Rape Survivors are the New Blacks

The other prominent incident is the March 2015 banishment of a black scholarship student from the small-group conference section of a required freshman Humanities 110 course at famously “liberal” Reed College in Oregon, whose purpose was to devote itself to “the life of the mind”.

Reed College

Reed College

Reed College is the only private undergraduate school with a student-run nuclear reactor. What might have been an insignificant student disciplinary action at a college that is smaller than many high schools has gone critical due to media attention, and is spreading a radioactive cloud of controversy through cyberspace.

Reactor

Jeremiah True, a 19-year-old Reed freshman, was warned repeatedly by his professor (and academic adviser), Pancho Savery, that his views were considered “sexist” and made his classmates uncomfortable, before being told in a March 14th email that he was no longer welcome to participate in the conference section of his lecture-seminar class.

Jeremiah True (Facebook Image)

Jeremiah True (Facebook Image)

“Please know that this was a difficult decision for me to make and one that I have never made before; nevertheless, in light of the serious stress you have caused your classmates, I feel that I have no other choice,” Savery wrote in the email.

True’s Facebook page says he studies “How to Annoy People” at Reed, he takes pride in challenging his classmates’ opinions, and it seems to be the case that some of his fellow students have not appreciated his outspokenness on certain sensitive topics – from the Holocaust to “lower class people didn’t have the ability to create art” – but with the tipping point being his commentary on what he believes to be the fiction of “rape culture“.

True said he sparred with classmates over discussion topics related to ancient Greece and Rome (the focus of Hum 110), such as the “patriarchal” belief that logic is more important than emotion and his analysis of Lucretia’s rape. But it was his questioning of the widely shared and often debated statistic that 1 in 5 women in college are sexually assaulted and his rejection of the term “rape culture” that created sufficient unease, particularly among women students who consider themselves sexual assault survivors, to lead to him being banned.

“I am critical of the idea of a rape culture because it does not exist,” True wrote in a lengthy email to Professor Savery explaining that “We live in a society that hates rape, but also hasn’t optimized the best way to handle rape. Changing the legal definition of rape is a slippery slope… Why would we want to inflate the numbers of rape in our society? … We do not serve actual rape victims by over inflating the numbers on rape.”

While both Professor Savery and Reed’s Director of Strategic Communications (PR officer), Kevin Myers, now insist that True was banished for a pattern of behavior and not for the content of his comments, the email in which Savery informed True of his ouster was explicit that it was due to specific comments that made other students “uncomfortable”:

There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape.

They, and others, do not feel comfortable being in the same classroom with you; not only because of this topic but because of other things you have said to people personally or on facebook in which you seem to undermine women’s abilities in general.

The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes.

The professor’s explanation thus made the non-credible assertion that, not only was the decision based on the unanimous feelings of the rest of the students in the section (an assertion that True rejects after talking to other students), but that True’s very presence was so emotionally destabilizing to some students that it created a hostile environment which extended beyond this particular classroom.

While Jeremiah True freely admits to nurturing a challenging approach to ideas and discussions, his other public statements indicate that his motive is to shake up and improve both the culture of his own school and the world at large.

In a cloud document, titled “A New Idea for Universities“, True explains:

I want to use my suffering as a catalyst for campus-wide reform. I want to point out the immorality of the Faculty. I want to urge them to take a stance against radical feminism. I want them to use their authority in order to make this school safer and more inclusive for all students, not simply gender/race police and quiet people who are afraid to speak.

Some claim that he posted on Facebook that “I believe that all women are inferior to men. I am a misogynist”. Whether or not this was the case, or whether it was one of True’s deliberately provocative statements intended to incite debate, is uncertain.

But this sentiment is contradicted by his own published statements, such as:

“I don’t care what I’m labeled as being as long as truth has its day. I was raised by a single mother and my two sisters and was always taught about how powerful and passionate women could be by their examples. I do not believe I am a sexist, but I do place reason above emotion… I also think that because I have had family members and dear friends that have been raped, I want accuracy, not hysteria and overblown statistics.”

Whether Jeremiah True’s behavior was overly provocative or whether he tended to dominate some discussions and prevent others from having their say is a matter of conflicting opinions. But the core issue is whether his professor/adviser should have reprimanded and counseled him rather than resorting to the extreme measure of expulsion from the conference section when “it was too late for you to transfer to another section”.

Irony & Hypocrisy

The terrible irony of this decision is that it seems not only to violate the policies and goals of Reed College, but appears to be terribly hypocritical, given Professor Savery’s background and stated philosophy.

From the Reed College Faculty Handbook:

Reed College considers the right of free speech, and therefore, that of dissent, to be fundamental to its life as an academic community. The exercise of the right of dissent is not something to be grudgingly tolerated, but actively encouraged.

In an Oct 8, 2012 video, posted to YouTube, Pancho Savery said:

“I am a religious believer in the First Amendment. I believe that it is never OK to censor anything. All ideas should be open to free expression and debate… The ideas that are being talked about are going to be difficult, but I think that’s what it means to live in a democracy, to participate in the process, to be open to new ideas, and to be willing to talk about and debate those ideas with your fellow citizens. And the more that happens, the better and stronger our democracy will be.”

Yet free expression, open debate and ideological dissent appear to be precisely what Savery banned by excluding Jeremiah True from his conference section.

Pancho Savery

Pancho Savery

Like Jeremiah True, Pancho Savery is a mixed-race African American (the second black faculty and the first black full professor at Reed). Savery was invited to Reed after 15 years of teaching at UMass Boston, a more racially-diverse, working class and older (average age of 27) student environment, where he taught a variety of literature and English classes, including African-American literature and other 19th and 20th century topics – but never the Greek and Roman literature that was the focus of Reed’s mandatory freshman program. However, the lighter schedule and better pay and working conditions drew him to the West coast in 1995.

In a 2006 statement about “Why I Teach at Reed“, Pancho Savery wrote:

I believe religiously in the conference method – the idea that students are in charge of their own education, and my job is to create the right atmosphere in the classroom so that students can educate themselves and each other. …

One of the great things about teaching at Reed is that I can walk into a classroom and ask one question, and the students just take it and go with it for 50 minutes. …

Hum 110 is really important because it’s the introduction that students get to the conference method. Students become better thinkers, better writers, and better able to express their ideas in written form and verbally. …

Reed does not encourage you to just agree – Reed teaches you to critically examine everything you hear and everything you read, and not take anybody’s word. You have to have the skill to think, and investigate, and engage in rational dialogue. It’s very easy at most schools to go through four years and be relatively passive. At most schools you can be a sponge and soak up what everyone around you says and does. You cannot be a sponge at Reed – you have to be active, you have to put yourself out there.

Teaching is the means by which I try to change the world. I see my activity as not just literary, but as political, moral, philosophical. I believe that it is part of the job of the college to prepare students to go out into the real world when they graduate. I want my students to have skills that they can take with them and use. They are privileged in being able to have the kind of education that they gain at Reed. Therefore, they have an obligation to give back in some way. When you leave, you need to take the skills that you have gained and use them to make the world a better place.

“To critically examine everything you hear and everything you read, and not take anybody’s word” seems to be precisely what Jeremiah True had taken to heart, particularly in regard to the much-touted but demonstrably false “1-in-5 women will be victims of sexual assault” factoid which has been repeated by everyone from campus advocates to President Obama to justify a rather Draconian assault on an “epidemic” of campus rape which the Department of Justice has found not to exist.

In “Rape and Sexual Assault among College-age Females, 1995-2013“, released on December 11, 2014, the DOJ found that the rate of all forms of sexual assault on campus was 0.61% per year, with penetrative rape occurring at a rate of 0.2% per year – rates that are significantly lower than for similarly-aged non-student women and reduced 50% since the late 1990s.

Other studies, such as the CDC’s “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011“, found that, in the previous 12 months, a slightly higher percentage of men reported being “made to penetrate” another (with 86% of the other being women) than women reported penetrative rape. However, even with the more gender-neutral revised 2013 FBI definition of rape, “made to penetrate” is specifically excluded, as the definition requires some form of orifice penetration by body parts or objects.

While it’s perfectly understandable that denying or criticizing such a widely-accepted and universally-propagated dogma as “rape culture” would engender feelings of unease among those who have come to define their social status as victims of just such a culture, there is also a very active debate – in academia, the media and in cyberspace – of the validity and value of such a concept. A number of those who challenge the notion are self-described Equity Feminists – hardly the misogynist MRAs (pejorative for mens’ right activists) that Victim Feminists insist are the only ones contesting their gospel.

Regardless, however, of the validity of Jeremiah True’s commentary on the subject (and others), Professor Savery’s decision to expel him from the conference section, solely on the basis (as all evidence suggests) of the emotional discomfort of some other students, begs the question of whether a more constructive approach was possible.

Oddly, Professor Savery wrote about a very similar experience at Reed and its highly positive resolution, indicating that he knew quite well how best to respond to this kind of classroom conflict.

In “Odd Man Out”, Chapter 11 of the book Achieving Against the Odds: How Academics Become Teachers of Diverse Students (2001), Pancho Savery wrote:

Last semester, about midway through my course on Ralph Ellison, I noticed that the level of class participation had mysteriously decreased. I came into class and put the issue on the table for discussion. We had been reading Ellison’s Shadow and Act and discussing questions of democracy, race and America, past and present. I had noticed that the more African American students talked, and the more passionately they got involved with the implications of the text, the more silent the white students became. In the discussion, it became clear that many white students felt both intimidated and angry. They couldn’t or wouldn’t talk in class because of feeling intimidated, but they had no problem expressing anger at the students who made them feel that way.

When I began teaching, I had always feared this situation, but it had never materialized. I have to admit I was really caught off guard. Several white students spoke, and all expressed the same feeling. When they were done, the woman who was the focus of the comments spoke, and she both defended herself and apologized. She eloquently explained how isolating and lonely a place Reed is for nonwhite students and how courses such as this one provide an anchor and help keep sanity and a sense of definition and identity alive. She also apologized for her passion and remarked that it wasn’t good if it was preventing others from talking. After all, the more people who talk, the better the classroom situation. The class then ended, and I asked everyone to think about all that had been said and to come back next time prepared to continue.

My initial response was to be somewhat angry at the white students. I didn’t feel an apology was necessary. To me, the white students were uncomfortable, and they were locating the source of their discomfort in other students in the room. To me, the source of the discomfort should have been located internally rather than externally. They were being forced both to think about new things and to think about things differently, and they didn’t like it. As a result, they resisted. I wondered why these students had chosen to take a course in African American literature. What did they expect to find? Was this merely a fad? Or, more likely, did they assume this would be like most other Reed courses, unemotional and overly intellectual?

I received many phone calls before the next class, most from white students, and most opposed to the view of the white students who had spoken. At the next class, the student who had apologized spoke first and recanted her apology. She read aloud the opening paragraphs from [Ellison’s] Invisible Man and talked about how she had been made to feel invisible both at Reed in general and by the response of her classmates the previous day. She had realized that she had allowed herself to be intimidated, and she said that she felt white students needed to hear what she had to say.

At this point, I jumped in and said there were too many white students who hadn’t commented at all, that the original problem was white students’ not speaking, and that this was still the case. Every student who had not spoken then spoke, saying on the one hand that they hadn’t spoken out of fear of “saying the wrong thing”; but, on the other hand, they rejected the condemnation the other white students had made of the students of color, and they too rejected the idea that an apology was necessary. At this point, the white student who had first raised the issue of intimidation also apologized and suggested that she had been too harsh. I closed by speaking on the necessity of open dialogue, saying that knowledge has to be used in real ways, that trying to separate the real world from the classroom world is a mistake that leads to disaster.

Professor Savery noted: “To me, the white students were uncomfortable, and they were locating the source of their discomfort in other students in the room. To me, the source of the discomfort should have been located internally rather than externally.”

So the question must be asked why he didn’t feel that the women (and perhaps men) who were uneasy about Jeremiah True’s animated discussions weren’t also “locating the source of their discomfort in [another student] in the room”.

Is it that, while Savery could identify with the need for the black woman student to be highly engaged on the issue of black literary history and black self-identity, he could not similarly identify with a young black man’s need to confront Victim Feminist dogma (which, after all, has become gospel to most academic liberals and progressives)?

Jeremiah True wrote in an email to all Reed faculty:

I will tell you that as a Black man (with all the strange perceptions of my sexuality that that entails), I do not appreciate the thought that faulty data are responsible for determining whether or not I will be called a rapist by a college campus.

Why could not Savery use the classroom unease as a similar ‘teachable moment’ to encourage all participants to grow in ways that do not “separate the real world from the classroom world” so that they can learn to face a “real world” in which unquestioned academic gospel is not treated with such deference.

“For over 100 years, Reed has been very committed to free speech and diverse viewpoints, and maintaining an environment in which people can live and learn and work and express themselves honorably,” said PR officer Kevin Myers.

reed_college_logo

The very first class at Reed College in 1915 agreed to abide by an Honor Principle, which was refined over the years.

In 1963, the Community Senate approved a statement amplifying on the knowledge of “right and wrong” which had heretofore sustained the Honor Principle:

Two kinds of behavior are considered anti-social and therefore in violation of the honor principle: (1) Conduct which causes embarrassment, discomfort or injury to other individuals or to the community as a whole. (2) Conduct in violation of specific rules that have been developed over the years to meet special conditions in the community.

In 1968 this statement was amended by inserting the word “unnecessary” before “embarrassment”, and this has remained the core of the Reed Honor Principle ever since.

This was a critical distinction, as some level of emotional discomfort is necessary to intellectual and personal growth. And, as Savery had apparently learned early in his Reed teaching career, locating the source of one’s discomfort in oneself rather than another is crucial to that growth.

The Reed College Honor Council, a committee of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to promoting the Honor Principle in the Reed community (in which Jeremiah True was a member), includes this among other elements of the Honor Principle:

Every member of the community has the right to freedom of inquiry in coursework, scholarship, and the day to day life of the College.

Private colleges are not bound by the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution, but should be bound by their own established principles.

Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said the foundation was interested in investigating True’s case. “Banning a student from a course simply because he expressed views on a topic of classroom discussion that some disagree with or are made uncomfortable by is generally inappropriate,” Cohn said. “A college campus is precisely the place for students to grapple with ideas and develop critical thinking skills, often by challenging prevailing wisdom and subjecting their assumptions to rigorous testing.”

“The mere fact that somebody says something that makes you feel uncomfortable or that you don’t agree with isn’t in and of itself harassment,” Cohn said.

A March 20, 2015 article about this incident, published in Inside Higher Education, was titled “Crossing a Line?

The question that Professor Savery, the Reed College community, and all those who care about freedom of academic inquiry and the right to dissent, should be asking is: Who crossed what line and why?

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Addendum 1

Savery’s Studied Silence

On Sunday, March 22, 2015 5:25 PM, I sent the following email to Pancho Savery:

Subject: Jeremiah True and a Missed Opportunity

Pancho Savery,

As one who has spent 45 of my 63 years in non-violent social change activism and education, I have been following the Jeremiah True controversy as closely as possible from the hills of Vermont.

While Reed’s confidentiality policies make it difficult to get a full picture from this distance, I generally support Jeremiah’s courageous attempt to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of the Victim Feminism gospel that has come to dominate America’s campuses.

And I’m bothered by your decision to banish him from further participation in the conference section of Hum 110 for what appears (by your own email to him) to be the content of his comments and the emotional distress that they precipitated in others, particularly young women who describe themselves as sexual assault survivors.

I’m particularly dismayed because, in your chapter “Odd Man Out” in Achieving Against the Odds, you describe a very similar experience in a class on Ralph Ellison, with the over-eager protagonist being a black woman student and with the white students taking offense and feeling intimidated.

At that time, you wrote: “To me, the white students were uncomfortable, and they were locating the source of their discomfort in other students in the room. To me, the source of the discomfort should have been located internally rather than externally.”

Why could you not draw the same conclusion in the current case? And why could you not have included Jeremiah in a constructive resolution in which all participants acknowledge their culpability in the conflict and contribute to a mutually-acceptable outcome?

– Robert Riversong

Savery replied on Sunday, March 22, 2015 5:55 PM, as follows:

Hi,

Thanks for writing. In point of fact, the decision about Jeremiah was made not because of what he said, but because of a pattern of disruptive behavior that he had been spoken to about by me more than once. I am a strong believer in the First Amendment and people’s rights to say unpopular things.

Pancho

My followup email on Sunday, March 22, 2015 6:06 PM, was thus:

Pancho,

I understand that’s the school’s official position, as promulgated by Kevin Meyers, but it is contradicted by your own email to Jeremiah True:

There are several survivors of sexual assault in our conference, and you have made them extremely uncomfortable with what they see as not only your undermining incidents of rape, but of also placing too much emphasis on men being unfairly charged with rape.

They, and others, do not feel comfortable being in the same classroom with you; not only because of this topic but because of other things you have said to people personally or on facebook in which you seem to undermine women’s abilities in general.

The entire conference without exception, men as well as women, feel that your presence makes them uncomfortable enough that they would rather not be there if you are there, and they have said that things you have said in our conference have made them so upset that they have difficulty concentrating in other classes.

If you can’t explain the enormous discrepancy between these two positions (and why statements on social media or outside of class would have any impact on class disciplinary actions), then I can’t believe you are being consistent with your own previously expressed philosophy, such as in your Oct 8, 2012 YouTube video.

– Robert Riversong

When Savery failed to respond by  Sunday, March 22, 2015 8:38 PM, I sent the following:

Pancho,

Frankly, I didn’t expect to hear anything from you other than the canned response that you and Meyers are giving to the media, though I hoped you might offer further insight.

I assume at this point that you simply ignored my last email and do not intend to respond further.

You should know, then, that I have published a 4300-word essay on your evident hypocrisy and failure to engage this class conflict in the constructive way you described in Odd Man Out – and I’m publicizing the link wherever possible on news sites that have covered the story, including Reed Quest.

Illiberalism & Hypocrisy on America’s Campuses – Stifling Free Expression in Deference to the Sensibilities of Self-Declared Victimhood

– Robert

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Addendum 2

In His Own Words

Since BuzzFeed broke the story on March 19, there have been perhaps a dozen articles on a wide range of media and blog sites, mostly feeding on each other, parroting the CYA canned responses from Pancho Savery and Reed PR Officer Kevin Meyers, with the rare one delving a bit deeper. But most authors impose their own bias and fail to do sufficient fact-checking or invite Jeremiah True to respond to the many charges against him (at least in a way he can accept).

On March 23, True began giving video interviews (by Skype from his dorm room, where he’s in both self-imposed and mutually-decided exile until the wildfires are brought under control). He’s feeling pretty lonely and reports that 22 “no contact” orders have been granted to students by the school administration, as a number of students claim to be fearful of him.

The two taped interviews, however, paint Jeremiah Reed as a rather gentle, highly intelligent and extremely thoughtful man who offers effective responses to every allegation of his misbehavior. It’s also clear that there is nothing violent in his character, and that – in fact – he is deeply committed to non-violent social change, though not without shaking up a complacent and too-docile college community. He certainly speaks his mind freely, without fear of consequence.

His explanation of his “bizarre” insistence that journalists be willing to start their article with the word “nigger”, True says, was intended only as a litmus test to determine whether they would really allow him to speak his truth. As he said in the interview with (the rather moronic) host of Pod Awful: “As soon as someone says he’s down on using the word nigger, then I don’t have to use it because I know he’s hearing me.”

In a longer and far more intelligent interview by Charles C. Johnson, Jeremiah said:

Pancho decided to have a conversation about gender dynamics, so I thought that would be a good opportunity to ask people why they thought I was sexist. [Another student asked him about rape culture] and I said I don’t think that rape culture exists because of this statistic which is over-inflated. … Regardless of whether I was disruptive or not (and I was not), the faculty handbook says that Pancho needs to go to the Dean of Students and launch an investigation into whether I was disruptive, and he didn’t do that. … It was a very quick and brutal reaction to my comments, and I didn’t do it in a violent way – I didn’t know that anyone in the room was a victim of sexual assault.  …

In response to a question about his saying it was a hard time for men on campus:

College students generally like sex, however because of this air of paranoia and fear surrounding consent and what constitutes consent on college campuses, being in a physical relationship with anyone it’s constantly hanging over you that, if this person wanted to, they could cry “rape” and you could get brought up on trumped up charges and there’s be next to nothing you could do to save yourself. It’s just black or white – either you raped her or you didn’t – and if she says you did, you’re completely screwed and you will get suspended and be pariah-tized by the school. What’s worse is that I learned recently from my time on Honor Council that every year at Reed’s campus there are two or three black men who are falsely accused of rape. … I’m finding that the marketplace of ideas is experiencing a market failure – it’s pretty bankrupt.

In response to a question about what actually happened in the conference section:

[Pancho] kind of contradicts himself. He says that I was not thrown out because people were made to feel uncomfortable. I was not thrown out because people were victims of sexual assault. But I was thrown out for a series of disruptive behaviors, such as saying poor people can’t create art or justifying the Holocaust or justifying racism. All of these things are things that he said were good examples within the context of the text which we were reading…It’s very disheartening to see him go back on his…ideals, but I still maintain that he’s a good teacher and I’m very sorry to see him shame himself publicly like this.

At the end of the 38-minute interview, Jeremiah explains with academic erudition precisely what he had said about those controversial topics within the context of the texts they were studying, and that, in each case, Pancho Savery had complimented him on how well his ideas were derived from the readings.

When asked what he would like the outcome to be:

My dream scenario: I’m able to return to the class, I say I’m sorry for hurting your feelings, I leave, I drop out of Reed, I sue, I get Reed’s money, I donate the money to a good charity, and then I start a media/political career… Reed was building up its reputation at the expense of my education, so I see no issue in fighting back.

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Post Script

The Larger Picture – Speech Codes on American Campuses

from Greg Lukianoff, the author of
Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate (2014)

Greg Lukianoff is an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and a graduate of American University and Stanford Law School.

FIRE has found that 65% of the 392 top colleges in the country – both public and private – maintain  “red light speech codes”.

Only 35.6% of students – and 18.5% of faculty and staff – strongly agreed that it was      “safe to hold unpopular positions on campus”.

Campus censorship…damages our greater society in two distinct ways.

The first and most dangerous harm is that speech codes and ridiculous “free speech zones” make students far too comfortable with restrictions on their freedom of speech… The combination of a lack of awareness of our basic rights and the belief that freedom of speech is an impediment to, rather than a necessary component of, social progress poses a long-term threat to our freedom.

The second harm is subtler… By tolerating censorship and by making it risky for students to honestly speak their minds, universities encourage students to play it safe and talk only to those students with whom they already agree – a tendency that can’t help but spill over into the world off campus once those students leave. This means that higher education, an institution that should be opening people’s minds to new ideas and dissenting opinions, may actually be supercharging our political polarization.

One of the most intriguing pieces of data I came across while researching Unlearning Liberty is that there is an inverse relationship between how much education people have and how frequently they talk to those with whom they disagree politically… In other words, there is evidence that the more schooling you receive, the tighter your echo chamber becomes.

Over the course of my 11-year career defending student and faculty rights, I have often had to explain to people that the problem with campus censorship is more than just theoretical – it places real pressure on students not to discuss and explore new ideas.

Indeed, a 2010 study conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities called “Engaging Diverse Viewpoints” found that out of the 24,000 college students and 9,000 faculty and staff members surveyed, only 35.6% of the students – and only 18.5% of the faculty and staff – strongly agreed that it was “safe to hold unpopular positions on campus”. If you break down the numbers a bit further, the picture is even worse. Only around 30% of college seniors strongly agreed with the statement – a substantial drop from 40% of freshman, with each successive year less optimistic than the one before it. The longer they stay on campus, it appears, the less safe students feel about holding unpopular positions. Perhaps that explains why only a miserable 16.7% of college professors strongly agreed with the statement.

Colleges should be places where students and faculty are free to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable”, as Yale so eloquently promises in its college literature. Yet, as I explain in Unlearning Liberty, remarkable cases of censorship are taking place on today’s campuses, often at some of the most prominent schools in the nation.

While the public seems to fondly believe that speech codes are a thing of the past – a bygone product of the “political correctness” movement of the 1980s and 1990s – they are alive and well on the modern college campus. As I explain in Unlearning Liberty, these days, you’re unlikely to open up a student handbook and find a section labeled “Speech Code”. Instead, these codes are woven into other policies regarding student conduct, particularly those that prohibit “harassment” and “incivility”. What hasn’t changed about these speech codes, however, is how ludicrous they often are.

In the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education‘s (FIRE’s) most recent annual report on campus speech codes, we found that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the 392 colleges and universities we surveyed across the country maintained speech codes that clearly fail to meet First Amendment standards (which FIRE labels as “red light” policies)… Moreover, even though public schools are legally required to uphold students’ First Amendment rights, these institutions were no more likely than private schools to have policies that met constitutional standards; 65% of both public and private universities surveyed received a “red light” rating.

This is actually an improvement from past years. In fact, the percentage of overall “red light” schools has now dropped for four straight years, from 75% in 2009, to 71% in 2010, to 67% in 2011, to 65% today. Additionally, the number of institutions that do not maintain any published policy restrictions on student free speech (which we call “green light” schools) has nearly doubled over that time, from 8 to 15.

In fact, there are so many laughable speech codes out there that FIRE has been able to highlight an outrageous “Speech Code of the Month” every month since 2005 – with no risk of running out of suitable material. Some early examples of clearly unconstitutional policies include our February 2006 Speech Code of the Month at Jacksonville State University, which stated that “No student shall threaten, offend, or degrade anyone on university owned or operated property.” Our September 2007 Speech Code of the Month, courtesy of Ohio State University, simply mandated, “Do not joke about differences related to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, socioeconomic background, etc.” Drexel University’s Speech Code of the Month (September 2006) used an even wider brush; it broadly banned “inconsiderate jokes” and “inappropriately directed laughter”. (It’s useful to note that Drexel is a private university in Philadelphia that, like the vast majority of private colleges and universities, promises students freedom of speech in its official policies. While private universities are not bound by the First Amendment, when a private institution clearly commits itself to free speech on campus and holds itself out as a bastion of free inquiry, FIRE holds that school to the same standards governing freedom of expression that govern a public university. This also reflects the “contract theory” of individual rights that has been recognized by many courts reviewing college promises to students.

The trend of sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious speech codes continues to this day. The University of Delaware received the Speech Code of the Month “honors” in August 2012 for maintaining a “bullying” policy that banned “teasing”, “ridiculing”, and the “spreading of rumors”. Illinois State University, our September 2012 honoree, has a Code of Student Conduct that sets forth a list of “non-negotiable values”, including “civility”, “an appreciation of diversity”, and “individual and social responsibility”, and states that “when individual behavior conflicts with the values of the University, the individual must choose whether to adapt his or her behavior to meet the needs of the community or leave the University”… This month’s policy, which we awarded to SUNY New Paltz, prohibits distributing or even discussing any “written or graphic material that ridicules, denigrates, insults, [or] belittles” any individual or group that has “protected status”. Of course, it’s up to the administration to decide what counts as ridiculing or belittling.

These and many similar policies have persisted despite the fact that they have been consistently defeated in court decision after court decision, a half dozen of which included challenges to policies that FIRE had already publicly declared to be unconstitutional. The list of cases, which now spans over two decades, includes: McCauley v. University of the Virgin Islands (2010), invalidating university policies banning speech that causes “mental harm”, “offensive” or “unauthorized” signs, and conduct that causes “emotional distress”…

FIRE’s goal, unusual as it might seem, is to put ourselves out of business, so to speak. We’d love to wake up one morning and find that colleges and universities are the open forums for speech that they so often promise to be. I’d love to make Unlearning Liberty an obsolete tale of past censorship. Sadly, we continue to be amazed and frustrated that so many universities insist on maintaining unconstitutional speech codes despite clear legal precedent against such policies.

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Turning Colleges Into “Safe Spaces” Infantilizes Young People

In a March 2015 NY Times Op-Ed, “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas“, Judith Shulevitz offers a sharp insight into the personal and social costs of over-protection of young adults.

Judith Shulevitz is an American journalist, editor and culture critic. She has been a columnist and founding editor at Slate, a deputy editor of New York Magazine, and a columnist for the New York Times Book Review and The New Republic. She is currently a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times.

Here is a brief summary:

Katherine Byron, a senior at Brown University and a member of its Sexual Assault Task Force, considers it her duty to make Brown a safe place for rape victims, free from anything that might prompt memories of trauma.

So when she heard last fall that a student group had organized a debate about campus sexual assault between Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, and Wendy McElroy, a libertarian (who is a survivor of a brutal rape), and that Ms. McElroy was likely to criticize the term “rape culture”, Ms. Byron was alarmed. “Bringing in a speaker like that could serve to invalidate people’s experiences”, she told me. It could be “damaging”.

Ms. Byron and some fellow task force members secured a meeting with administrators. Not long after, Brown’s president, Christina H. Paxson, announced that the university would hold a simultaneous, competing talk to provide “research and facts” about “the role of culture in sexual assault”. Meanwhile, student volunteers put up posters advertising that a “safe space” would be available for anyone who found the debate too upsetting.

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall – it was packed – but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs”, Ms. Hall said.

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material.

Some people trace safe spaces back to the feminist consciousness-raising groups of the 1960s and 1970s… In most cases, safe spaces are innocuous gatherings of like-minded people who agree to refrain from ridicule, criticism or what they term microaggressions – subtle displays of racial or sexual bias – so that everyone can relax enough to explore the nuances of, say, a fluid gender identity. As long as all parties consent to such restrictions, these little islands of self-restraint seem like a perfectly fine idea.

But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer.

The theory that vulnerable students should be guaranteed psychological security has roots in a body of legal thought elaborated in the 1980s and 1990s and still read today. Feminist and anti-racist legal scholars argued that the First Amendment should not safeguard language that inflicted emotional injury through racist or sexist stigmatization.

A junior [at Columbia] named Adam Shapiro [said] “a safe-space mentality has begun infiltrating classrooms…making both professors and students loath to say anything that might hurt someone’s feelings. I don’t see how you can have a therapeutic space that’s also an intellectual space.”

Universities are willing to dignify students’ fears, citing threats to their stability as reasons to cancel debates, disinvite commencement speakers and apologize for so-called mistakes.

While keeping college-level discussions “safe” may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled.

It’s disconcerting to see students clamor for a kind of intrusive supervision that would have outraged students a few generations ago. But those were hardier souls. Now students’ needs are anticipated by a small army of service professionals – mental health counselors, student-life deans and the like. This new bureaucracy may be exacerbating students’ “self-infantilization”, as Judith Shapiro, the former president of Barnard College, suggested in an essay for Inside Higher Ed.

Universities are in a double bind. They’re required by two civil-rights statutes, Title VII and Title IX, to ensure that their campuses don’t create a “hostile environment” for women and other groups subject to harassment. However, universities are not supposed to go too far in suppressing free speech, either. If a university cancels a talk or punishes a professor and a lawsuit ensues, history suggests that the university will lose. But if officials don’t censure or don’t prevent speech that may inflict psychological damage on a member of a protected class, they risk fostering a hostile environment and prompting an investigation. As a result, students who say they feel unsafe are more likely to be heard than students who demand censorship on other grounds.

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  by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes and a link to this page

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One Response to “Illiberalism & Hypocrisy on America’s Campuses”

  1. Thank you for this well-written article and all your support of Jeremiah Josias Luther George True across the internet. I subscribed to your blog. Thank You for standing for Liberty!

    [Danette True is Jeremiah’s mother. – RR]

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